State Journal-Register

July 18, 2001

River restoration would receive boost from new federal program 


WASHINGTON - The Senate Appropriations Committee Tuesday called for the creation of a new pilot program within the Department of Agriculture to protect the Illinois River basin.

It would be aimed at coordinating efforts and marshalling additional resources for the state's Illinois Rivers 2020 program, said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a member of the Senate panel.

While the state already has received some funding from the USDA's conservation program to assist in its river restoration efforts, the new language would direct the agriculture secretary to work with the state using existing funds.

"This is to try to look at the big picture and to find a funding source for it that is reasonable," said Durbin.

Durbin inserted the provision in the fiscal 2002 funding bill for the USDA. In nonbinding report language, the Senate panel directs the agriculture secretary to report back to the committee by Dec. 1 with details of the federal-state plan, federal funding sources and levels and implementation dates.

The bill now goes to a House-Senate conference committee charged with ironing out the differences between it and the House version.

The House version would set aside $600,000 for the Illinois Rivers 2020 program from the USDA's Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)

The state receives about $3 million a year from the EQIP program.

The state's Illinois Rivers 2020 plan calls for a 20-year, $2.5 billion federal-state effort to improve the Illinois River's navigation capacity, water quality and wildlife habitat.

The Illinois River basin covers 26,000 square miles of the state and includes 55 counties, 10 million acres of farms and 90 percent of the state's population.

The 327-mile river and its plant and wildlife have been damaged from decades of industrial and residential waste, agricultural runoff and construction of a lock-and-dam system for commercial traffic.